ProGrade Digital is a new professional memory card built by former executives and employees from both Lexar and SanDisk. Today, ProGrade Digital launches its first product lines including CFAST 2.0 and SD UHS-II memory cards as well as a dual CFAST 2.0 and SD card reader. But the best part about ProGrade is its professional-level support and rigorous testing.
Luckily, I got to spend some time with a pre-release version of ProGrade's 512 GB CFAST 2.0 card. Available in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB sizes, this card boasts transfer rates up to 550 MB/s, which is on par with most CFAST 2.0 cards on the market. I did have a chance to play with this card in Hasselblad's 100-megapixel H6D-100c, where it performed well and subsequently offloaded onto the computer without issue and at about the same real-world rate as the Delkin card I was using before. But of course, when any card can do this, where is the differentiation that matters?
According to founder and CEO Wes Brewer, ProGrade is "committed to focusing [its] efforts on the digital imaging pro who is meticulous about his equipment and workflow— delivering the best service, plus best product quality and reliability." They do this by offering a streamlined product line and by actually delivering excellent quality service. Offering 128-512 GB capacities for V130-spec CFAST 2.0 cards and 64-256 GB capacities only in the faster UHS-II for SD cards help signal that ProGrade doesn't want to dilute its offering with capacities that won't be as appealing for professional photography and videography workflows. The 200 MB/s SD card read speeds are also at the mid-to-upper end of the market's SD card speed offerings.
Furthermore, the company will quickly and directly replace any card that might fail within the warranty period. That's pretty standard. But beyond this, if you get a newly released camera that doe not work with the card you have because of a firmware issue, which does happen from time to time with new gear, ProGrade will also replace your card with a new one that has updated firmware for your new device. A unique 20-digit serial on the back of every card keeps track of the exact firmware and manufacturing date of the card, so they can be sure to provide you a solution that works for your camera no matter what. Neat side note: CFAST cards that I've used in the past have the labeling on the "wrong" side of the card, so it always feels like I'm putting cards in backwards to cameras and readers in my experience. But this one is switched, so I'm always looking at the proper side when inserting the card, which feels much more natural.
ProGrade also prides itself on having "very tight controls of what goes into the cards. The controller, firmware revision level, and how the firmware interacts with the memory in there has a lot of effect on compatibility and reliability." To that end, while other companies might have a one- or two-percent failure rate acceptability, ProGrade has a zero-percent failure rate acceptability. To do this, they fully test every card that is manufactured while other manufacturers might instead select just a few along the way that get plucked from the line or put every card through minimal read or write tests.
It's worth noting that even these CFAST 2.0 and SD cards are not the fastest or most affordable on the market. Perhaps lesser-known EgoDisk's PRO and Elite PRO CFAST 2.0 cards run at up to 595 MB/s and 665 MB/s, respectively. Lexar and SanDisk both have SD cards with faster read and write speeds for similar or better prices. But ProGrade's support, experience, tight control, and broader commitment to a variety of professional solutions as they expand to other formats might still be something to consider. And especially with companies like Lexar in somewhat of a limbo (their XQD cards are again apparently discontinued according to B&H), I would always welcome more competition into the relatively small space of professional-grade digital storage.
The dual-slot card reader, according to ProGrade, is the fastest reader you can buy today, as it supports full USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds of 10 Gb/s, which translates to about 800 MB/s of real-world data rates that allow both SD UHS-II and CFAST 2.0 carda to transfer simultaneously without bandwidth limitations. If you often work in the field with your reader, you'll appreciate ProGrade's included magnetic laptop mount that adheres to your laptop and then allows you to snap the dual slot reader into place on your laptop so it's not hanging off the edge while you're on the move. This sure beats the Velcro-attached setup I've had going with my own readers in the past. This reader comes with both USB-A-to-C and USB-C cables for compatibility with any modern computer.
ProGrade is also releasing its Recovery Pro software to enable easy JPEG and raw file recovery in one package. Moreover, Recovery Pro aims to be particularly good at recovering video files, which is often where recovery software can be particularly lacking, as it can be difficult to piece together all the individual files of various video formats. We weren't yet told exactly what files this will be compatible with, but it would make sense to expect all major formats to be covered.
ProGrade will put a great value on having a direct relationship with the customer, as the sales pipeline will primarily involve direct sales as well as a very small selection of some of the largest, most well-known outlets.
The CFAST 2.0 cards are available today in sizes of 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB for respective prices of $229.99, $349.99, and $699.99. These launch alongside ProGrade's UHS-II SD cards in capacities of 64 GB, 128 GB, and 256 GB for $54.99, $94.99, and $189.99. The CFast and SD Dual Slot Workflow Reader will launch March 1 for $79.99, and Recovery Pro will run $49.99.